A.S. BETHEL, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
In the 19 years that I have been alive, the topic of sexual intercourse has never been discussed in my family. We all know what it is—it’s just awkward to bring up. Yet, the media these days is lowering standards of what is “PG-13”; books detail the process of intercourse, and music hints at experiences. “Sex” has become a topic with a voice much too loud to simply ignore.
I have often received the question, “Why is it ‘taboo’ to talk about sex in church?” from non-Christian friends. They either call me a prude or tease me for “conservative Christian values.”
I write this article now for two reasons. First, I have been on the polar opposite side of “conservative Christian values.” And second, I think the topic of sexual intercourse is misunderstood, by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Thus, the purpose of this article is to clear up some misconceptions about the Christian perspective on sex—from someone who has been on both sides.
SEX IS NOT A SIN
To start, sex itself isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a good thing. It’s actually a gift from God. There is no shame in the concept. Song of Solomon, for example, is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to the passionate love between King Solomon and his bride. The imagery provided is unmistakable: “With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. … His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!”1 These lines are unabashed in their expression of passion and pleasure. This entire book clearly demonstrates that sex is a pure and holy expression of love—by no means a sin.
Even in the very beginning, God said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”2 Indeed, we were made as sexual beings, and there is no shame or sin in that! C.S. Lewis furthers this point, declaring that “if anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once.”3 Christianity thinks highly of the human body and of sex.
Now, in regards to the question of being a “Christian prude” when it comes to the topic, people often confuse prudery with respect. But let’s get one thing straight: Prudery isn’t biblical. Respect is.
The former, by definition, is “the behavior or thinking of people who are too easily shocked or offended.”4 The latter, on the other hand, is a “high or special regard,” or “the quality or state of being esteemed.” Having respect for something is “understanding that … something is important, serious … and should be treated in an appropriate way.”5 Thus the view is that, for example, the casual sex that defines hookup culture is not something of which to boast. It is taking lightly and treating inappropriately what is sacred and intimate. Christianity respects sex as the culmination of a holy covenant between two people in the context of marriage, where they become unified as one. Christians uphold sex with dignity and respect, because they believe that it is more than just a physical act. Ultimately, sex deserves respect and should not be taken lightly as simply a pleasurable pastime or bucket-list experience. This idea is not prudish—it is respectful.
Now, what makes sex a contentious topic is when it is placed outside of the context of boundaries and marriage—sounds conservative and antiquated, I know. But just wait.
WHY DO WE NEED BOUNDARIES?
In order to address the need for boundaries, it is important to first look at what happens when boundaries are not in place. We have all seen or heard it before. From cheating and adultery to rape and molestation, sexual wrongdoing is the root of much hurt and suffering in the world. In some cases, friendships are lost and trauma is caused as boundaries are crossed. Closer to home, we see the damage done by sexual wrongdoing as we look to the recent scandals on the UC Berkeley campus. Sexual misbehavior has a way of ruining lives and relationships in a way that other misconducts do not. Indeed, when that which is more precious and intimate becomes twisted, it can then become the worst.
Further, we need boundaries because all good things need boundaries. C.S. Lewis says that “for any happiness, … quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary.” In fact, everyone “must have some set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others”—whether this is based on Christian, hygienic, or sociological principles.6 Restraint, guardrails, and boundaries are necessary things in life, even just to maintain health, safety, and civility. The repercussions of lack of boundaries clearly demonstrate this.
Therefore, what exactly is the boundary for sex? It is this: Do not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. Period.
If we were all just bags of flesh walking around on earth, our only purpose to live long enough to reproduce and then die, then perhaps casual sex outside of marriage would be understandable and even justified. However, we are not just physical beings; we are so much more. Marriage is the intended context for sex because marriage was always supposed to be lifelong, binding, exclusive, precious, and constant—regardless of changing feelings and circumstances.
While this article is not arguing the sanctity of marriage or the biblical defense of the institution, Christian thought on sex cannot be without discussion of marriage. Thus, I will continue to briefly discuss it.
ADULTERY AND MARRIAGE
Sex outside of marriage is adultery. And from American Beauty to The Scarlet Letter, adultery is a topic that has both intrigued and terrified a wide range of audiences. Hebrews 13:4 specifically defines it, saying, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” God created sex to be in the context of marriage, between a married couple. When taken outside of this context, sex is adultery.
C.S. Lewis concisely sums up the Christian view of extramarital sex: “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.” He draws a parallel between the pleasure of sex and that of eating, saying that we “must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than [we] ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.”7 Sex is meant to create a union of the body, but without the holy union of marriage, it is ripped out of its intended purpose.
More blatantly, the crucial reason why marriage is essential to sexual activity can be found in Genesis 2. As stated, man and woman become “one flesh”: there is unity. Thus, as in hookup culture, when there is only bonding in the flesh but no bonding in marriage, people are then subscribing themselves to bonding and tearing apart again and again. To further illustrate this, Psychology Today actually details how today’s hookup culture “has been linked to psychological problems, such as drinking, anxiety and depression.”8 While sex is natural, the obsession and proliferation of it outside of marriage are not. Nowadays, hookup culture may be the norm. Yet it was never meant to be that way.
God sets boundaries for us because He loves us. He tells us that our bodies are holy temples, and He himself dwells within us. As 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” While sex is a good thing and the concept itself does not defile the body, in the wrong context, sex profanes and destroys this temple. There is nothing holy or beautiful about detachedly sleeping around.
Christianity values marriage because the idea is that marriage is for life. Once a man and woman are married, they are then regarded as “a single organism,” like how a violin body and a bow are regarded as one instrument.9 Divorce, therefore, is akin to “cutting up a living body.”10 To have sex outside of marriage in the current hookup culture, then, would be in essence getting divorce after divorce—perhaps even worse, since there was no intention of covenantal promise in the first place.
GREATER THAN CARNAL
Lastly, while we were created as sexual beings, we were not created as solely sexual beings. In Galatians 5:13, Apostle Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom. … Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” While we do have these natural passions, we should not let them consume us. Ultimately, we are more than fleshly creatures desiring to procreate. God created bodies with sex organs, but He also created minds and hearts to pursue love and righteousness.
Romans 12:2 pleads, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The plea is that we do not buy into the lie that sex in any context outside of marriage is acceptable, that we do not settle for the standards of this world that promote extramarital sex as “modern,” of good humor, or casual.
As Apostle Paul writes, “ ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.”11 Though there is no condemnation in the concept of sex, something is very wrong with our obsession of it. The focus of our lives should be something much greater, something much more meaningful and fulfilling. That is, as Christians, we are called to refrain from engaging in sexual activity until marriage, so that we may not be consumed by our desire for fleshly passion. The hope is that instead, we may first focus on furthering God’s kingdom, loving and serving others, and being sharpened to become vessels for every good work.12
I myself have felt resentment and bitterness towards notions of “purity” and “chastity,” and rejected them as highly antiquated concepts that only objectified people. Yet eventually, I started to wonder in which case objectification was happening more: in a worldview that called for the refrainment of sexual activity, or in a lifestyle that promoted the pursuit of sexual gratification.
I have now learned that the boundaries that God has placed in my life are good. There was a period in my life when I wanted to push against them, thinking that I was shackled. Truly, I have discovered that God really is not trying to deprive us by pleading that we refrain from pursuing sexual desires. God is not an evil, patriarchal judge who only wants to guilt-trip us into upholding Victorian ideals. God is a loving Father who cares deeply about our well-being—not just physical, but also our mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being. He cares for all of his children, and it causes Him deep grief when He sees us sharing our bodies in any context short of a lifelong promise.
All this being said, I know that a lot of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, may already have struggled with sexual desire and perhaps even experienced the consequences of it. I in no way want you to feel guilt or shame weighing down on you—whether it’s because you’ve consensually engaged in something, or because someone else did something to you. I do hope, however, that if you are struggling against something that you feel is wrong, you may voice and address it. And most importantly, after that, I pray that you can come to fully know and understand God’s grace. I pray that you can find security in claiming God’s steadfast love that knows no bounds and is not intimidated by anything that has ever happened.
After all, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”13
There is so much more to this topic (and so much more that I wish to say) than can be written in one article. Nevertheless, I hope that my words can lead to fruitful discussions and deeper understanding between both Christians and non-Christians. Above all, I pray that we may all seek truth and maturity in wisdom.